Thanks to a widely-expected move from defensive end Everson Griffen, the Vikings acquired some relief for their tenuous cap situation heading into the new league year next month. Their time with the fourth-leading pass rusher in team history, though, could be at its end.
Griffen, according to a league source, has exercised the option to void the final three years of his deal, making him a free agent for the first time in his career. The Vikings gave Griffen the option when they renegotiated his contract before the 2019 season, provided he played at least 57% of their defensive snaps and posted at least six sacks. Griffen responded with a strong 2019 season, finishing with eight sacks and 66 pressures while playing 77.5% of the team's defensive snaps and re-establishing himself as a vocal leader a year after a five-game absence to undergo treatment for mental health issues.
His ability to void his contract came as the result of the renegotiated contract he agreed to last year, minutes before his 2019 base salary became fully guaranteed. The defensive end waited in the parking lot at TCO Performance Center while the Vikings hammered out a restructured deal with his agent, Brian Murphy; the team earned more than $3 million of cap relief at the time and the ability to finalize Anthony Barr's new deal, while Griffen got the option to take control of his situation in 2020.
The Vikings were projected to be more than $10 million over the cap at the start of the 2020 league year; Griffen's decision clears $13.9 million of cap space, with $800,000 of dead money remaining on the Vikings' books. He will be 33 in December, and though the team could have interest in bringing him back on a smaller deal, Griffen figures to have options after a resurgent 2019 season.
The day after the team's 27-10 loss to the 49ers in the NFC divisional playoffs, Griffen said, "I want to be a Viking for life, but it's a business, so we'll figure that out when the time gets here."
If his 10-season run with the Vikings is over, Griffen leaves with 74.5 career sacks, ranking behind only John Randle, Chris Doleman and Jared Allen in Vikings history. After beginning his career as a rotational pass rusher behind Allen and Brian Robison, Griffen remade himself in Mike Zimmer's defense, posting three double-digit sack seasons and reaching three Pro Bowls from 2014-17. A player who had been cast as immature (after a pair of arrests following his rookie season) harnessed his prodigious talent, earning two lucrative contracts from the team while his animated visage became a fixture in the center of the team's pregame huddles.
His departure -- if Griffen indeed lands with another team -- could be the first move in a series of big changes for a Vikings defense that has prided itself on continuity.
Cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander, as well as safety Anthony Harris, are set to hit free agency next month, and the Vikings could force players like cornerback Xavier Rhodes and defensive tackle Linval Joseph (who each have cap figures above $12.8 million in 2020) to choose between restructured deals and free agency.
On the defensive front, the Vikings will have to determine if they want to re-sign pending free agent Stephen Weatherly and whether they want to give Ifeadi Odenigbo -- who posted seven sacks in a breakout 2019 season -- a larger role in 2020.
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